I am writing to the partners of the emotionally unavailable partner. Men have been found more in the insecure-avoidant attachment category and women in the insecure-anxious attachment category. For this reason, I'll be using gendered language in this post.
Adult attachment styles in romantic relationships
There is great interest in learning about attachment styles today and for good reason. Attachment theory has been found to be a reliable indicator of patterns of behavior. Children with an avoidant attachment style grow up to be adults with avoidant attachment. And most people with an avoidant attachment style who are in relationships tend to have issues with romantic partners.
This generally holds true for all three of the four attachment styles.
In a simplified way, types of attachments can be plotted on a graph. One line represents attitudes about ourselves, and the other line represents attitudes about other people. Those of us who feel more positively about ourselves and about others is "securely" attached. Those who feel poorly about themselves but positively toward others are "anxiously" attached.
Individuals who trust themselves but not others are "avoidantly" attached. Finally, those who don't feel positively about either themselves or others are "chaotically" attached or "disengaged."
Attachment develops and is shaped by our primary caregivers. While we often have one primary attachment figure, it is not the only one. We have may have many people in our lives as children (the other parent, siblings, and extended family) who impact us.
For this reason, few of us are "pure" attachment styles but instead are a mixture of several. We can also score 100% in secure attachment, 35% on avoidant, and 15% anxious or a mixture of any other style.
In this post, we will talk about avoidant attachments. These styles often create problems for their spouses, who may feel lonely and disconnected from their mates. Regardless of their efforts to be pleasing or appealing, they get the message that their avoidant spouse would rather be alone.
Insecure Attachment Styles
All attachment styles that are not "secure" are "insecure." An avoidant attachment style goes by many names: "avoidant dismissive attachment style" or simply "fearful-avoidant." Like all attachment styles, the child develops avoidant attachment within the first 18-24 months of life. An avoidant person was once an avoidant child, shaped by the way they were raised.
Intimacy avoidance is a common condition that affects people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. It is a way of protecting oneself from emotional closeness or intimacy with others. It is a problem that can be both debilitating and isolating.
Origins of Avoidant Attachment
Mary Ainsworth discovered that children who demonstrate an avoidant attachment style tend to be less exploratory. They were also more emotionally reserved when their mothers departed during the research project dubbed the "strange situation."
Most children appear distressed by being left in the care of strangers, but these children do not. They also do not appear impacted upon the mother's return; they may ignore her or refuse to make eye contact. Intimacy avoidance can be caused by a variety of things, including fear of:
- being hurt, or
- being vulnerable.
A traumatic event, developmental trauma, or a lack of trust in a relationship can also cause intimacy avoidance. A lack of self-confidence or self-esteem can also cause intimacy avoidance. The symptoms of intimacy avoidance can include:
- an unwillingness to share feelings or thoughts,
- an inability to commit to relationships,
- fear of being rejected, or
- a desire to stay away from close relationships.
Other symptoms may include a need to control relationships, problems handling criticism, or feelings of detachment and emptiness.
Theodore Millon discusses how parental behavior shaped the child. Rejection took the form primarily of belittlement, teasing, and humiliation.
Although these children might not have been physically abused, the parental message was that the child was:
"weak, worthless, and beneath contempt. As a result of this demeaning and deprecating attitude, the child learned to devalue him- or herself. He or she develops little or no sense of self-esteem. Being worthless, derided, and forlorn, the child felt powerless to counterattack, to overcome the humiliation and ridicule to which he or she was exposed."
Being so rejected and demeaned, the child becomes mistrustful of people and learns to keep their distance from close relationships.
Adult Relationships and Romantic Relationships
The avoidant personality is consistently fretful, anxious, and remote. Despite wanting acceptance and intimacy, their behavior shows the opposite. They cope with life by giving up on the emotional connection. Their primary goal is avoidance of others, being afraid of having feelings and wants, that will leave them conflicted and frustrated.
They become detached onlookers who find peace by detaching from or minimizing needs and wishes. When they are very neurotic, they are extremely alienated. They prefer to stay at the periphery of a social world and find safety in drifting into their fantasy world.
In the beginning, these marriages may appear to be going smoothly due to an intensely emotional or sexual connection. However, the Intimacy Avoidant may become trapped, smothered, or confused and start looking for their partner's flaws.
They might even want intimacy but not know how to respond to their partner's expectations. It is important for the couples therapist to understand the complaining spouse's story.
The most common way to treat intimacy avoidance is through individual therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often used to help people identify and understand the triggers and patterns of their avoidance. This can be done through the exploration of past experiences, feelings, and beliefs.
It can also help individuals to recognize and challenge the negative thought patterns that contribute to avoidance. In addition, men can learn to replace these thoughts with more helpful and positive ones.
A therapist can help identify the cause of the avoidance and work with the individual to develop healthier coping strategies.
Other treatments, such as mindfulness-based therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), have also been found to be helpful. Finally, medication, relaxation techniques, and self-help techniques can also be useful.
Relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga may help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Medication can be used to treat underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to the avoidance.
Finally, self-help techniques may include learning to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs. It also helps the individual learn how to communicate openly and honestly with others. No matter what the cause may be, it is essential to seek help.
Couples counseling for an Intimacy Avoidant Marriage often starts with the recognition and handling of concurrent mental health issues. These include depression, substance abuse, anxiety, personality disorders, or challenges in expressing emotions.
Couples Therapy can also help people learn how to open up to others, be more trusting, and develop healthier relationships. It can help each partner become more aware of their own and each other's needs.
These therapies focus on helping individuals increase their acceptance of their own feelings and thoughts, as well as their partner's. This can lead to improved communication and understanding between partners. This can lead to increased understanding and intimacy.
With the right kind of help, it is possible to identify problems and move towards healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
By learning to understand better and accept themselves and their partner, people can start to move away from destructive avoidance patterns. In addition, they are moving toward building deeper, more meaningful connections.
With guidance and support, individuals can learn to identify and challenge unhelpful thought patterns. Our thoughts contribute to avoidance and replace them with more helpful, positive ones. With the right help, it is possible to overcome intimacy avoidance and build healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
Help for Intimacy Avoidance
The connections and insecurities formed in childhood do not have to be permanent. Through therapeutic practices and conscious efforts to have healthy relationships, people can change. Those with attachment issues can acquire the feeling of "earned security," as identified by Robert Weiss.
Therapy can assist Intimacy Avoidants in breaking past their early upbringing. They also learn the aptitudes necessary for true closeness and durable emotional connections.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with intimacy avoidance, contact a mental health counselor or couples therapist. With the right kind of help, it is possible to manage this style and develop healthier relationships with others.